Lagoons, Monkeys and Raw Food in Phuket, Thailand
Thailand is a place I dreamed of going since I was a teenager. I’m not sure whether to blame it on my obsession with monkeys or Leonardo DiCaprio at the time, but my heart decided at that point that it was somewhere I would visit one day.
Fast forward to the fall of 2015 when Brandon revealed that one of the conferences he regularly attends was going to be held in South Korea the following year. He asked if I would be interested in coming along and my heart immediately skipped a beat. The first thing that popped into my head: THAILAND.
That’s not to say I wasn’t excited about visiting Seoul because I was. But the thought of being that much closer to the Land of Smiles made me giddy like a school girl.
So many things began to run through my imagination: stunning beaches with cliff-lined backdrops, monkeys, temples, elephants, and of course the best part, authentic Thai food.
Because of restrictions with Brandon’s work, we only had five days to spend in Thailand. Knowing that it would be a long time before we would have the opportunity to travel that far again, the pressure to decide exactly where to visit and what to do was immense. I anxiously went back and forth so many times but eventually settled on spending two full days in the south and three in the north.
I didn’t realize this until I started doing my research but there are hundreds of different islands in southern Thailand. Narrowing it down felt like such a daunting task…what if I picked the wrong one? The FOMO struggle was real.
At the end of the day my decision came down to what was most convenient for us time-wise. Every other island I looked into involved multiple airport layovers and boat transfers, both of which we just didn’t have time for. Phuket, however, is a non-stop six-hour flight from Seoul and you can easily visit nearby islands by boat.
What to Pack
- Rain Jacket
- Lightweight pants, skirts, and casual dresses (it’s super hot and most places are really casual)
- Several sports bras (you’ll sweat right through your regular ones!)
- Several bathing suits
- Comfortable sandals and sneakers for walking
- Baseball Cap (I wish I had brought one to tame my hair in the wind on the boat)
- Waterproof Phone Case
- Waterproof Backpack
- Natural Sunscreen (so it won’t harm the fish and coral)
- Bug Repellent (most hotels provide it for you but it’s good to have some on hand in-case)
Where To Stay
Once I had decided on Phuket, the second hardest decision was where to stay. The northern part of the island offers many upscale resorts in a tranquil location but there isn’t much to do or see directly outside of the hotel. The east side is the most populated with major tourist attractions and bustling nightlife in Patong Beach. Then there’s the south and the west, both of which have a mix of nice resorts and more local, small town things to do.
As much as we enjoy relaxing at a nice resort, we didn’t want to feel confined to that space. With that in mind, The Nai Harn seemed like the perfect base. It’s in a somewhat remote location so you’re not overwhelmed with tourism but there is still enough to see and do in the surrounding area. Most importantly, there are numerous plant-based eateries nearby serving up fresh and healthy food.
The resort is nestled in a tropical hillside rainforest with newly renovated rooms overlooking Nai Harn Beach. The hotel itself features and open concept that highlights the ocean view. From the breakfast area to the oceanfront bar to the pool, you are guaranteed a panoramic image of the turquoise water.
Besides the great location and warm hospitality, my personal favorite touches were the colorful fresh orchids in the room and the delicious pastries prepared by their renowned executive pastry chef. Every morning they offer different varieties for breakfast and then a little treat in the evening as a part of the turndown service.
They left us mini vanilla cream puffs the first night and a chocolate brownie the second. I didn’t get a chance to capture a picture because after sunset I turn into a dessert monster but trust me, they were amazing.
Where to Eat
Located directly on the beach is The Nai Harn’s very own restaurant, Rock Salt. Staying true to the open concept of the hotel, the tables are al fresco allowing you to enjoy the sound of the waves gently crashing on the shore. The menu is large and varied, featuring dishes inspired by Eastern Mediterranean and North African cuisine with a touch of Thai influence.
I ordered a Greek-style salad and a curried vegetable dish with naan, both of which were fresh and full of flavor. The view and the food here are sure to leave a lasting impression. Be sure to go before sunset so you can take advantage of the happy hour. There’s a good chance you’ll want more than one of their delicious passionfruit cocktails.
Atsumi Raw Cafe
Within a 15-minute drive from Nai Harn Beach is Atsumi Raw Cafe. The front of the cafe is modern and air-conditioned, and the back features an adorable open-air patio situated in a serene garden setting. The cafe serves raw vegan and vegetarian food along with a wide variety of juices and smoothies, all made with local and organically sourced produce.
We ordered a couple of smoothies, the papaya salad, raw vegan pizza, and a mind-blowing delicious raw brownie with avocado ice cream. I’m still dreaming about that brownie. This place is definitely a must-visit in Phuket!
Green Tamarind Kitchen
Green Tamarind Kitchen is located in the small downtown area of Rawai and is especially known for their burgers. I ordered the veggie burger and Brandon had the Pad Thai. Neither of the meals blew us away but overall it was good and reasonably priced.
Other restaurants/cafes of possible interest:
- Phuket Vegan Nai Harn Beach
- Natural Efe Macrobiotic World
- Spoonful of Sugar
- Thailand Yes Coffee
Where to Play
Another awesome feature of the Nai Harn is that they offer motor bikes for you to rent directly from the property. While this might not be the best idea for everyone, Brandon used to race motorcycles so we felt comfortable exploring the island this way. At less than $15 per day, they’re affordable and fun too!
One of the first things we stopped off to explore was a temple right around the corner from the hotel. It was a little run down but I loved that it had paw prints in the cement from all of the pups that hang around outside with the monks.
While I wouldn’t consider this particular temple an attraction there are many well-kept temples on the island to visit. If that’s something that interests you, here are a few links worth checking out:
- 10 Must-See Temples in Phuket
- Wat Sawan Kuha Temple (this has monkeys!)
Nai Harn Beach
Nai Harn Beach is said to be one of the best in all of Phuket. It was the only beach we got to see on the island and while it was beautiful, in full disclosure there was a fair amount of litter in the sand. From what I’ve read, this is a common problem in Thailand, specifically during the monsoon season due to winds that wash it ashore.
Seeing things like that really upset me so we didn’t stay there long. It was a harsh reminder of how badly we need to control our waste, especially plastic. That said, the problem might not be as bad during the winter months when the winds carry the rubbish away from the shore.
Directly across from The Nai Harn is one of the most popular areas to watch the sunset in Phuket, Promthep Cape. We weren’t able to actually see the sun due to the clouds that day but it was still a nice place to stop and appreciate the view.
Koh Phi Phi
If you’ve ever seen the movie The Beach starring Leonardo DiCaprio then you’ve probably heard of Maya Bay. Although it looks slightly different in-person (thanks to computer generated alterations that made it appear completely closed off) it’s still just as stunning as they depict it in the movie. Soft white sand, bright turquoise water, surrounding 300-foot granite cliffs and the fact that it can only be reached by boat makes it feel like a true paradise.
Maya Bay is actually a national park so you won’t find any hotels or restaurants, however thousands of tourists visit every day. There are a few options for avoiding the crowds including an overnight sleep aboard or staying on Koh Phi Phi and hiring a private long tail boat first thing in the morning.
Because we were short on time, we decided on an early bird speed boat tour with Siam Adventure World (about an hour boat ride from Phuket to Phi Phi) that arrived at Maya Bay around 9am to avoid the crowds.
It was raining so we didn’t stay long but it cleared up by the time we reached reached our next destination, Pileh Lagoon.
This lagoon is jaw dropping gorgeous. We snorkeled here for a while and I couldn’t believe how salty the water was. It made it incredibly easy to float. I felt like I barely had to put forth any effort to swim.
After swimming for a while we stopped off at Monkey Beach. I was worried that crowds of tourists might disturb them but for the most part they seemed unfazed by our presence.
We watched them clean bugs off of each other and fight for spots on the tree limbs. They were all so cute and I almost died when I spotted the baby. He looked like a teeny little old man!
Towards the end of the tour we stopped for a traditional Thai lunch at Bamboo Island. We had rice with vegetables and tofu that they set aside especially for us because we were the only vegetarians.
Overall, it was a great experience. The tour guides were super friendly, we felt very safe, and the food was delicious. The whole day, including transportation to and from our hotel, cost us about $100 per person.
If you’re not concerned about time it might be worth it to look into staying on Phi Phi and taking a private long tail boat. Or if you’re not concerned about budget hiring your own speed boat would be ideal. A boat tour with 25+ people felt a little uncomfortable at times and I feel like it would have been more enjoyable to be on our own time schedule. But for the cost I think it was worth it.
If you want to see a more in-depth look, here’s a video I put together from our time in Phuket:
Up next: Chiang Mai!